Sunday, January 12, 2014

Air India year-old Dreamliners aging prematurely?

NEW DELHI: Is Boeing's brand new B-787 Dreamliner showing signs of "premature aging"? On Saturday, an Air India Dreamliner had to be grounded in Hong Kong after the actuator of its wing spoilers broke. A spoiler acts as a speed breaker on an aircraft and its actuators make it go up or down on wing tips during takeoff to alter drag and during landing to increase rate of descent. Without this important device perfectly functional, an airplane simply can't be allowed to get airborne.

An AI spokesman confirmed the latest B-787 trouble. "The aircraft was grounded and has since been rectified. It will be operational soon from Hong Kong. Boeing has informed us that that they will not just replace but modify this part (spoiler-actuator for all Dreamliners)," he said.

Boeing's decision to modify a particularly snag-prone part comes as the brand new or less than a year-old B-787s are showing signs that only aircraft that have been in service for five to seven years show. Spoiler actuators of a brand new plane breaking are unheard off, said a source. In fact, pilots say that this particular snag has become a regular feature for the Dreamliner.

Another senior AI official recalled that a few weeks back, a B-787 landed in Delhi and the crew left the cockpit after a near perfect flight. When engineers came to check this aircraft for the next flight, they discovered that the cockpit windshield had cracked. "The plane was just parked there and the windshield cracked just like that! On its own! We have never seen or heard anything like that," said the official. AI's mint fresh Dreamliners have seen two windshield cracks so far.

These signs of "premature aging" have now led airlines using the Dreamliner, like AI, if Boeing has had serious quality issues with the plane. "The plane was delayed by years and Boeing was required to pay penalty to airlines for that. They have hurried up and outsourced a lot of jobs to China for cost control. The effect on quality is showing," said a pilot.

Aviation minister Ajit Singh had last month said that AI's Dreamliner fleet had suffered 136 'minor' technical problems between their delivery since September, 2012, and November, 2013.

However, both Boeing and airlines say the issues with the B-787 have no bearing on safety. "The aircraft is perfectly safe. Constant snags on it mean that no one knows when a Dreamliner will be grounded and that has put a question mark on ontime performance and led to delays and cancellations that rightly irk passengers. We were banking on it majorly to improve our punctuality record which some other airlines have made their USP," said an official. 

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